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Gary Henry- Folds of Honor FoundationPosted Monday, April 20, 2009, at 6:52 AM
On Monday, Aug. 4, 2008, PGA Tour players were setting their sights on the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. This would be golf's final major championship of the season. Many things were at stake. Most notably, the game's top players were hoping for a strong finish at the PGA Championship. The goal was to represent the United States in the Ryder Cup matches to be held in late September at Louisville, Ky.
On that same day, Gary Henry, a 34-year old firefighter from Greenwood, was already representing another team from the United States. He was a member of the National Guard's 38th Military Police Company of Danville. Henry, a 12-year veteran of the Indianapolis Fire Department, was overseeing special operations rescues, specializing as a driver and a paramedic.
Henry was on a combat operation in southern Baghdad while golf's best players were tuning up their games in Michigan at a PGA Championship practice round on that Monday in August last summer. It's doubtful that Henry, who was a sports enthusiast, had golf on his mind that fateful day.
Gary Henry's life came to an abrupt end on Aug. 4, 2008 when a roadside bomb hit his vehicle. Tragically, he left behind three children, Shelby (15), Gavin (11) and Ashton (8). Only those that have suffered similar circumstances can even begin to imagine the pain and suffering that the Henry family would face.
You think Kenny Perry is having a tough time dealing with the sudden death playoff loss to Angel Cabrera at last week's Masters? Ask Shelby, Gavin and Ashton Henry what it's like to deal with a sudden death loss like they had last summer. We all would take Perry's fate ... in a heartbeat.
I can't tell you that Gary Henry had any tie to golf. His mother plays the game. But, from personal experience I have no golf stories that would involve this well respected and highly decorated Indianapolis firefighter. But, as happens in life, fate produces strange partners.
In 2007, Major Dan Rooney of Broken Arrow, OK, himself a PGA member, organized the first annual Patriot Golf Day. Rooney is an F-16 fighter pilot/golf pro who has flown four tours of duty in Iraq. He felt compelled to organize a nationwide program that would raise money to fund scholarships for families of military veterans who have been disabled or lost their lives in the line of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Patriot Golf Day, supported by the PGA of America and the USGA, was a rousing success in 2007 raising over $1 million for the Folds of Honor Foundation, which is the vehicle designed to help families in need. Rooney's efforts sparked even more interest in 2008 and in just two years over $3 million has been raised for the FHF.
Last year's Patriot Golf Days were held over Labor Day weekend. Nationwide, more than 3,600 public and private golf facilities participated. Capping off the 2008 effort was a $130,000 donation to the Folds of Honor Foundation by Captain Paul Azinger and the 12 members of his U.S. Ryder Cup team.
On March 9, Rooney appeared at the Indiana PGA meeting, which was held at the Holiday Inn North. He was there with his own mission -- to present Shelby, Gavin and Ashton Henry with scholarships funded by Patriot Golf Day and the Folds of Honor Foundation.
"Gary Henry was a true American hero who served both his country and his community. Folds of Honor is proud to be able to assist his children in this small way thanks to the PGA Professionals in the Indiana Section and the 28,000 PGA Professionals across the country," said Rooney.
Last year 78 golf facilities in Indiana participated in Patriot Golf Day generating more than $36,000 in donations.
The Indiana PGA is currently working with Maj. Gen. Marty Umbarger, the adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard. There are 18 other Indiana families who have lost loved ones in the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts. The hope is to help more families like the Henry's.
There is a "feel good" ending to this story. It seems that the Henry family would like to learn more about golf and actually play the game! The Henry children will be attending a session at the Indiana Junior Golf Academy courtesy of the Indiana PGA and the Indiana Golf Foundation. The Henry family has been afforded membership privileges at The Legends of Indiana Golf Club. They will be fitted for free golf clubs courtesy of Titleist/Cobra and its affiliation with The Legends.
I can't profess what Gary Henry would say about his son Gavin taking up the sport of golf. Gavin is an avid baseball player and all I can do is guarantee his dad that golf won't screw up his ability to hit a baseball!
Gavin, Shelby or Ashton will never have the opportunity to spend time on the golf course with their dad. Those of us that have had that privilege know what they will be missing. But maybe someday, the Henry kids will have kids of their own and they will get a chance to share that experience.
This is a story about all of the good things that golf represents. It is the essence of what golf professionals do everyday. Patriot Golf Day will be held over Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 4-7. I hope this story compels you to play golf that weekend and help other children like Shelby, Gavin and Ashton Henry!
Stay tuned for more details to follow later this summer!
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